Inquisitivism is a descriptive approach to designing instruction. It shares many of the same principles as minimalism but offers two key principles or components that set it apart. These two principles are co-dependent in the sense that the second principle cannot be realized without the first. The first principle of the inquisitivist approach is the removal of the fear that many adults have when first faced with learning to use technology. Many adults who are new to technology are virtually paralyzed when placed in front of a computer. The fear of “breaking something” or perhaps the fear of looking or feeling foolish often prevents these adults from embracing computers and technology (DeLoughry, 1993; Shull & Weiner, 2000).

The second most significant, or dependent, principle is the stimulation of inquisitivism. By designing instruction that reduces the “hurt level” and encourages the “HHHMMM??? What does this button do?” approach/attitude to learning, adults can be encouraged to learn in a similar fashion that children learn (Harapnuik, 1998). Exploring and discovering the power and potential of computers, and technology in general, can be an exciting and stimulating process if the learner is confident that they “can’t break the system” or that the system “won’t break them.” With fear reduced and the inquisitive nature stimulated, it can be argued that adults can have almost the same level of success with technological learning as children. An inquisitivist approach to learning technology is essential because technology is dynamic and is rapidly changing, forcing learners to continually adapt to these changes.

Another significant factor about inquisitivism is that the approach was developed (and continues to evolve) during the development and continued delivery of the Nethowto web-based course.  The development of the inquisitivist approach was a practical response to a need and was the result of a search for a theoretical foundation for the design, development, and delivery of the course. As Nethowto evolved, it became clear that many of the principles that ultimately became foundational to inquisitivism were at work in the development of the course.

In 1997 and 1998, the third and fourth year the Nethowto course was delivered and the second and third year it was delivered exclusively online, the minimalist approach was researched and even though it was originally designed as an approach for document design, components of its rubric seemed very appropriate to, and were applied to, Nethowto. During this time it became apparent that even though minimalism satisfied many of the instructional design needs of Nethowto and had the potential of providing a sound theoretical foundation for the course, it was lacking in two key areas—fear removal and social interaction. Kearsley (1998) affirmed the “solid theoretical foundation for minimalism” (p. 395) but also pointed out that it does have theoretical gaps. The most significant gap in minimalism is that it does not address the social aspect of learning (Kearsley, 1998). A lesser gap is that minimalism has not been tested in a variety of media, specifically online systems. As a result the adaptation of minimalism proceeded and, inquisitivism was formalized in 1998 (Harapnuik). Table 1 offers a comparison of inquisitivism to the constructivist learning environments (CLE) and minimalist rubric from which it ultimately evolved.

Constructivist Learning Environments



Provide multiple representation of reality

Avoid oversimplification of instruction by representing the natural complexity of the real world

Present authentic task (contextualizing rather than abstracting)

Foster reflective practice

Focus on knowledge construction, not reproduction

Enable context-dependent and content-dependent knowledge construction

Support collaborative construction of knowledge through social negotiations not competition among learners for recognition.

Reasoning and Improvising

Getting started fast

Training on real tasks

Using the situation

Reading in any order

Supporting error recognition and recovery

Developing optimal training designs

Exploiting prior knowledge

Fear removal

Stimulation of Inquisitiveness

Getting started fast

Using the system to learn the system

Discovery learning

Modules can be completed in any order

Supporting error recognition and recovery

Developing optimal training designs

Forum for discussion and exploiting prior knowledge

Real world assignments

It must be noted that many of the same principles apply to all three approaches. For example, all three approaches share the need for students to work on real world tasks in genuine settings. As would be expected of constructivist approaches, all three emphasize knowledge construction, whether it is called reasoning and improvising or discovery learning. Since inquisitivism is an adaptation of minimalism, it shares even more of the same principles. Inquisitivism is continually evolving, but there are currently ten key concepts/components that make up the approach.

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